THE Cascadia subduction zone, which extends along the northern Pacific coast of North America, might produce earthquakes of magnitude 8 or 9 ('great' earthquakes) even though it has not done so during the past 200 years of European observation 1-7. Much of the evidence for past Cascadia earthquakes comes from former meadows and forests that became tidal mudflats owing to abrupt tectonic subsidence in the past 5,000 years2,3,6,7. If due to a great earthquake, such subsidence should have extended along more than 100 km of the coast2. Here we investigate the extent of coastal subsidence that might have been caused by a single earthquake, through high-precision radiocarbon dating of coastal trees that abruptly subsided into the intertidal zone. The ages leave the great-earthquake hypothesis intact by limiting to a few decades the discordance, if any, in the most recent subsidence of two areas 55 km apart along the Washington coast. This subsidence probably occurred about 300 years ago.
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Radiocarbon test of earthquake magnitude at the Cascadia subduction zone